Last Updated on November 14, 2023 by Trevor Hallsey
For almost a hundred years, slot machines didn’t change very much from Charles Fey’s 1898 invention. Spinning reels, paylines, and a big jackpot as the top prize were the industry standard, even after the introduction of computer and video technology to the games in the 1980s.
But in 1996, a major departure occurred. A Chicago-based company called WMS introduced a fishing themed game known as “Reel ‘Em In.” What made it so different was the placement of not one but two video screens in front of the player—one for displaying the slot symbols and paylines and a second for something called a “bonus game.” Cartoon characters shown in boats on a lake would fish for special prizes in the waters below. The machine was an instant hit with the public.
WMS soon followed up its success with an entire line-up of bonus slots, including Jackpot Party, Boom, and Filthy Rich, which can still be found on slot floors even today. What was truly new was their use of a multi-line, multi-coin format tied to secondary bonus games. This provided more animation and more ways to win big than any of the classic slots previously developed. Winning bonuses didn’t even requite the alignment of special symbols on a payline.
Plenty of Bonuses
The WMS games opened the door to an entirely new generation of video slots. The appearance of bonus symbols in the slot window might trigger free bonus spins, hold wild symbols in position to match up on the next spin, award “scatter bonus” payouts, or take the player into an entirely separate mode, where additional prizes could be won in a non-slot format.
None of this was really possible prior to the marriage of computer and video technologies, but once the knot was tied, manufacturers engaged in a race to see who could push out more creative bonus games. Themes became commonplace, from beer-drinking contests and wild west shoot outs to motor racing, luxury shopping sprees, and drilling for oil. Eventually the competition would spill over into movie and television tie-ins, such as South Park and Family Guy.
The bonuses add an extra dimension of anticipation to slot play. Suddenly, what appear to be losing combinations are transformed into opportunities to open treasure chests, feed police officers donuts, discover buried gold, joust with medieval knight, or jump a motorcycle over a canyon. Bonus games truly unleashed the fertile imagination of slot machine developers.
An Expanding Range of Options
The next step beyond convention for bonus slot makers was to unfetter themselves from the notion that slot games must have reels. Soon there were “cascades” of symbols in place of the spins of old. In these games, when winning combinations are obtained, the symbols disappear, the ones above them “fall” into place, and new symbols arrive to fill what remains of empty positions on the screen. The cascades are potentially endless, as long as winning combinations keep coming up.
And if multi-payline and multi-denomination slots were popular, the next logical step was multi-bonus versions. These offer even more ways to play and win, so different from classic slots that the pay tables have to be shown in page after page of video displays. The more complicated, it seems, the more fun.
And then personalized bonus slots came along with the capability of remembering usernames made up by the players. They incorporate concepts drawn from role-playing games found on home video game systems. The machines guide players through “levels” of proficiency, unlocking ever-more exciting bonus opportunities along the way. The video slot called “Star Trek,” for example, features two screens and audio so real that the player’s seat shakes when the game goes into a “warp drive” bonus.
Perhaps the only drawback of this bonus-slot-mania is the expense. What are billed as penny slots can easily cost dollars per play if access to the major bonuses is desired. What’s more, winning bonuses has rapidly become the goal of such games, with jackpots seen as something of an “extra” instead of the primary goal.
Bonus Round Slots for the Best Rewards
Slot machines have evolved so much over the last century. We’ve come a long way from mechanical rolling drums. Today’s machines are all powered by computer software. Not just online casino slots, either. Even the big machines found in today’s opulent gambling halls are nothing more than an elaborate cabinet with a tiny computer chip inside.
Such enhancements work to our advantage in some ways, but not all. The games are far more entertaining. There’s no denying that. But at the same time, slot manufacturers have more control over each and every machine’s payout ratio. They can’t control when the machine will win or lose, or how much it will pay out when they does. But they can ensure a very specific profit percentile for the casinos that host them.
If that’s the case, you may be wondering how it’s even possible to win on slot machines anymore. If a game is set to pay out 95% of its intake as winnings, then players are sure to lose 5% of their overall bets. True as that may be, winning is a matter of being in the marginal pool of lucky players. And while it’s impossible to guarantee yourself a seat in that pool, it is very possible to increase your odds.
Gain an Advantage with Bonus Round Slots
There are so many different types of slot machines out there these days. You have your classic 3-reel slots and fruit machines, video slots, bonus slots, multiplier slots, fixed-line and multi-line slots, mega-ways, all-ways pays; the list goes on and on. Slot machines with dynamic features are high on the popularity list. But there’s one type of slot machine everyone should be looking for, and that’s bonus round slots.
Slots with bonus rounds are exceptional in a variety of ways. Most notably, when a bonus round triggers, the potential for a big payout increases dramatically. How dramatically, you ask? Well, that depends on the exact details of a game’s feature, which is why it’s so very important to read the pay table of any game before playing. Doing so will teach you exactly…
How to Play Slot Machines with Bonus Rounds
These slot machines play like any other, except that you may need to fulfil certain betting requirements to be eligible to trigger a bonus round. So, reverting back to my previous statement – read the pay table first. Here, you’ll learn what it takes to trigger a bonus round, and how to play it once you do.
Most of the time, you’ll need to line up a special combination of symbols to trigger the bonus. It could be 3, 4 or 5 scatters symbols landing anywhere on the reels. Or, it might be revealing a number of bonus symbols on certain reels, or in certain positions. Maybe you’ll need one bonus symbol anywhere on reels 1, 3, and 5, or a 3-high stack of bonus symbols on the center reel. Some require a special symbol on reel one, and a different special symbol on reel 5. These are just examples, but you get the idea.
As for how these bonus rounds play out, there are so many different games it’s impossible to describe them all. So instead, I’ll offer a few examples of common bonus rounds to better explain you can expect to come across.
Free Spins (Automatic)
The simplest and most common bonus feature of all is automatic free spins. The most you’ll have to do to play these out is press a Start button, and even that may not be required. The reels start spinning, racking up wins along the way, while you watch. Once the spins are complete, your winnings are tallied and added to your balance. Then the screen returns to the base game.
In a Pick’Em bonus (a.k.a. ‘Pick Me’ or ‘Click Me’), the screen changes to reveal a multitude of pickable items. You’ll select however many items the bonus grants, receiving whatever rewards you reveal beneath. Most of the time, it will be instant cash rewards. Other times, it may be extra picks, or an upgrade to a higher level, with all new items to pick from.
Pick’em bonuses may also be used as a precursor to a free spins bonus. In this case, you’ll pick a number of items to reveal things like how many free spins you’ll get, what win multiplier the free spins will play out at, or what symbol will be wild during the feature.
Board Game Bonus
I call these board game bonuses because they look and act just like a board game. There’s a winding path that you’ll move forward along, either by rolling dice or spinning a number wheel. Positions on the path will be labeled with various actions, positive or negative. You may have to move forward or backward extra spaces, receive a reward or boost, or hit a trap. Ideally, the goal will be to get to the end of the path to achieve the best reward, or to release the rewards gained along the way.
Arcade-Style Bonus Games
You won’t find too many of these, but they can be a lot of fun when you do. It’s like a game within a game. When the slot machine triggers this bonus, you’ll get to play an arcade-style game for extra rewards. It’s usually something like Space Invaders, or a shooter game where you have to kill enemies for points. These are partly skill-based, which is why so many players love them, and why very few slots actually have them.
Multi-Player Bonus Slots
I’ve saved the best for last. Slots with bonus rounds for multiple players are the most likely to afford advantage players with a big payout. These slot machines link groups of players together. When just one player in the group lines up a bonus-triggering combination, everyone in the group gets to partake in the bonus round. The more players there are, the more likely the bonus is to trigger. Every time it does, you’re sure to receive a payout of some size.
Bonus prizes are paid in direct proportion to each group member’s bet size contribution. For example, maybe there are 4 players in a group. The first player is betting $2 per spin, and the other three are betting $1 per spin. Because the first player is betting 2x as much as the rest, s/he will receive 2x the reward from the total winnings. Another way to look at it; Player 1 will get 40% of the overall prize pool, while Players 2, 3 and 4 will get 20% each.
There are No Guarantees – That’s Why it’s Gambling
This should go without saying, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m going to say it anyway. There are no guarantees in gambling. That’s why they call it gambling. The inherent risk is unavoidable, especially when it comes to slot machines. Playing bonus round slots will not – cannot – guarantee a profit. What it can do is increase your chances of coming out ahead.
We encourage you to play smart, and most of all, to play responsibly. Understand the difference between a real win and a loss disguised as a win; (if you bet $1 and win $0.50, you did not win – you lost $0.50.) Also beware of the erroneous perception of luck. A combination that ‘almost’ lined up a big win is not a near win. It doesn’t mean you’re getting closer to winning, either. It’s just a losing spin, like any other.
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